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Rómenna Meeting Report - September 10, 1983
September 10, 1983
We began this month's session with the reading of a short poem written by member Fred Phillips, a greeting in absentia to the group. We then began our second discussion of Tuor, delving into the Unfinished Tales chapter, "Of Tuor and His Coming to Gondolin."
Tuor's early life was compared to Túrin's. Both lost their parents at an early age as a result of the Nirnaeth Arnoediad, and both were brought up under Elvish fosterage. Túrin was threatened by slavery (one of the reasons his mother sent him away) and Tuor was actually the thrall of the Easterling Lorgan for several years. Both also lived as outlaws. However, their reactions to their experiences were quite different. Everything went wrong for Túrin; Tuor's story is much more hopeful.
It was noted that there is much more "supernatural" intervention in the tale of Tuor than in any other tale of the First Age. "Supernatural" is in quotes because, as has been discussed before, very little happens in Middle-earth that is supernatural in the sense of being beyond or above the nature or natural order of Arda. What is notable in the tale of Tuor is the direct intervention of Ulmo, who sends various signs and portents and eventually appears in person. Such direct action by any of the Valar is not apparent in any of the other tales.
The motif of the swan runs all through this section; Tuor's foster-father, Annael, uses a swan as a device, Tuor has loved these birds since childhood, seven swans are sent to lead him to Vinyamar, the shield left for him by Turgon bears a swan-wing device, and the swans give him feathers to set in his crest. Eileen commented that swans are big, powerful birds, ferociously territorial, and can be really fearsome if roused; she told of an experience her husband had with them in which he was nearly killed. They are impressive birds. Alexei noted that the swan is associated with the shamanistic tradition, and is the first servant of the shaman, the messenger between him and the spirit world. The swan is often a magic bird in fairy tales. In the original story of "The Seven Swans," the wicked queen's spell was not one to turn the brothers into swans, but to prevent their turning back into people--they had the shapeshifting ability naturally. There are also seven swans in Tuor's tale. Here, of course, as magical water birds, they are associated with Ulmo. At this point there was a digression as we tried to decide what species of swans the seven were: mute, trumpeter, whistling, whooper, or whatever. Someone suggested that since there were seven species of swan, it might be one of each!
Coming back from this digression, we straightway veered off into another one as Tuor's birth and childhood were discussed, this one on the name "Annael." Attempts to puzzle out its meaning were inconclusive: "anna" is "gift" and", "el" is "star," but one is Quenya and the other Sindarin, and Annael was a Sindarin elf. It was also pointed out that Annael is the name of an angel.
The death of Rían, Tuor's mother, was discussed. After learning that her husband Huor had been slain in the Nirnaeth, she went to the Mound of the Slain, lay down on it and died. It was decided that this was not suicide, but rather the willing "giving back of the Gift" of good Men of the First Age. It was time for her to go and she went.
Tuor thus grew up with Elvish rôle-models from his earliest days. He probably came the closest to being an Elf (by nurture) of any mortal, and it is thus fitting that at last he was (possibly) assumed into the race of the Eldar. He is so elflike that later in the story, he is often mistaken for one until the other person gets close. Also, thinking like an Elf, Turgon is a natural object of allegiance for him, as High King of the Noldor.
Other facets of Tuor are his friendship with animals (the swans of his childhood, Lorgan's hounds refusing to chase him), which recalls Beren, and his skill in music. Music and water are closely connected in Middle-earth, both being symbolic of spiritual openness. Note the passage from "Ainulindalë": "And it is said by the Eldar that in water there lives yet the echo of the Music of the Ainur more than in any substance else that is in this Earth; and many of the Children of Ilúvatar hearken still unsated to the voices of the Sea, and yet know not for what they listen." This was because Ulmo was "most deeply. . . instructed by Ilúvatar in music." [The Silmarillion, p. 19 (Houghton Mifflin ed.)] Tuor is a skilled harpist and singer, and his sea-longing will come up later. At this point there was another digression as we tried to decide whether Tuor's harp had metal or gut strings; the latter was decided upon.
It was noted that not until he has made the conscious decision to seek; his doom is he given his first "sign": a sudden outflowing of water in response to his music. Following the stream, he is led up to the Gate of the Noldor, where he meets the Elves Arminas and Gelmir. They at length tell him that yes, that dark cave really is the Gate of the Noldor for which he has been searching. Gelmir also notes that "a great doom is written upon your brow." Lissanne suggested facetiously that Tuor had his name inscribed in Tengwar on his helmet and that Gelmir misread "Tuor" as "Doom." Tengwar were scrawled in the margins of the Secretary's notebook in order to test out this hypothesis.
At this point another idea of Lissanne's was brought up concerning Elves' eyes. As was noted before, Tuor was often mistaken for an Elf until the other person was close enough to see his eyes. Lissanne suggested that Elves' eyes might resemble those of night-hunting animals or those with keen vision, in having much larger irises and pupils than humans. An Elvish eye would thus show almost no white, and might also shine in the dark like a cat's. That Elves had much better night vision than Men is suggested in the text, and the idea is reinforced by the preponderance of greys in Elvish dress.
After passing through the Gate of the Noldor, Tuor eventually comes to the Sea, which he is the first human to see. The cry of the gulls which leads him out of the ravine just in time (so that he is not drowned by the incoming tide) was compared to the Sehnsucht often mentioned by C. S. Lewis; the inconsolable longing, sad but at the same time desirable. It is a foretaste for the sea-longing awakened in Tuor when he finally comes to the shore of the sea, the scene being written with much sensual imagery. This sea-longing is connected with the Music of the Ainur, as noted earlier, and stays with Tuor all his life.
The swans appear at this point in the story and lead Tuor to Vinyamar, the former home of Turgon. Here he is given another sign, as the sun strikes the arms left by Turgon for Ulmo's messenger at the proper strategic moment. Tuor takes up the arms and thus the role of the messenger. Ulmo then appears to him in person (in another magnificently written scene) and thus ratifies his mission to seek Turgon. It was noted that Ulmo is the only Vala who takes an active interest in humans, other than Morgoth, that is; humans must choose between the two.
The meeting of Tuor and Voronwë and their journey to Gondolin was gone over rather quickly, though their crossing of paths with Túrin at the defiled pool of Ivrin was given some attention. Túrin does not notice them, being at this point "totally Elric," as Alexei described it. That Turin should parallel Elric is ironic since Moorcock couldn't stand Tolkien's work. Their viewpoints are greatly di~arate, and Moorcock found Tolkien's abhorrent (as might Tolkien have found Moorcock's, if it comes to that). It was also pointed out somewhere in here that Tuor dreams of Númenor, of which his descendents will be rulers.
We came at last to the Seven Gates of Gondolin, and Tuor's journey through them. The gates were compared to the seven stations of the ziggurat and to the levels of initiation. The latter comparison is reinforced by Tuor's fasting during the first stage of the initiatory climb. The progression of the first six gates--wood, stone, bronze, iron, silver, gold--is an alchemical one, but the seventh gate, of steel, violates this progression. The Gate of Steel was the recent addition (since the Nirnaeth) of Maeglin, a characteristically egotistical addition pushing above the natural order. It was suggested that decorating the spiky seventh gate with Turgon's crown-helm was Maeglin's sneaky way of putting his uncle's head on a pole. However, the Gate of Steel does bring the number of gates up to the magical seven, and furthermore it makes music, arguably more sublime even than gold. Another instance of good coming out of evil, or simply equivocal symbolism?
There were a few linguistic digressions; it was noted that there is a "Gondolin accent," and the name "Elemmakil" was glossed as "Star-sword" (which prompted a glancing mention of the now-defunct TV show Blackstar). and another digression was made on the subject of A. Merritt. But now, having reached the city of Gondolin at last, the story of Tuor in this version trails suddenly off, and we were forced to do likewise.
-- reported by Margaret Purdy